LESSWRONGLW

Okay, "utilities" makes sense. That may have been the term I was missing.

The basic goal in all of this is preventing a system crash when there are two equal ways to move forward. Acting randomly isn't bad and is what I would have expected people to answer. What I was looking for is how to refine "acting randomly" after the system is modified. "Utilities" sounds right to me.

And as a major disclaimer, I understand this is probably very basic to most of you (plural, as in the community). I just don't want to start with the wrong building blocks.

There's a well-known example in philosophy called Buridan's Ass - a donkey is placed at the exact midpoint between two bales of hay, and being unable to choose between them (because they are identical), it starves to death. Somewhat amusingly, but also unfortunately, digital electronics can run into a similar problem known as metastability; a circuit can get stuck at a voltage roughly at the midpoint between those assigned to logic level 0 and logic level 1.

Oddly, adding a "if it's hard to decide, choose randomly" circuit doesn't help; it just c... (read more)

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Two Scenarios

Alice must answer the multiple-choice question, "What color is the ball?" The two choices are "Red" and "Blue." Alice has no relevant memories of The Ball other than she knows it exists. She cannot see The Ball or interact with it in any way; she cannot do anything but think until she answers the question.

In an independent scenario, Bob has the same question but Bob has two memories of The Ball. In one of the memories, The Ball is red. In the other memory, The Ball is blue. There are no "timestamps" associated with the memories and no way of determining if one came before the other. Bob just has two memories and he, somehow, knows the memories are of the same ball.

If you were Alice, what would you do?

If you were Bob, what would you do?

Variations

More questions to ponder:

• Should they do anything at all?
• Should Alice and Bob act differently?
• If Alice and Bob could circle more than one color, should they?
• Would either answer change if the option "Green" was added to the choice list?
• If the question was fill-in-the-blank, what should they write?
• If Bob's memories were of different balls but he didn't know which ball was The Ball, should his actions change?
• If Alice and Bob could coordinate, should it affect their answers?

Further Discussion

The basic question I was initially pondering was how to resolve conflicting sensory inputs. If I were a brain in a vat and I received two simultaneous sensory inputs that conflicted (such as the color of a ball), how should I process them?

Another related topic is whether a brain in a vat with absolutely no sensory inputs should be considered intelligent. These two questions were reduced into the above two scenarios and I am asking for help in resolving them. I think they are similar to questions asked here before but their relation to these two brain-in-a-vat questions seemed relevant to me.

Realistic Scenarios

These scenarios are cute but there are similar real-world examples. When asked if a visible ball was red or green and you happened to be unable to distinguish between red and green, how do you interpret what you see?

Abstracting a bit, any input (sensory or otherwise) that is indistinguishable from another input can really muck with your head. Most optical illusions are tricks on eye-hardware (software?).

This post is not intended to be clever or teach anything new. Rather, the topic confuses me and I am seeking to learn about the correct behavior. Am I missing some form of global input theory that helps resolve colliding inputs or missing data? When the data is inadequate, what should I do? Start guessing randomly?